Cape Town – Prepare for the possibility that the most industrious Proteas spinner in the three-Test series in Australia isn’t one of their two intended specialists.
Instead a significant revisit of middle-order batsman JP Duminy’s credentials as an all-rounder may come into play more than people realise, with the rookie tweakers on tour, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj, far from guaranteed many - or even any - appearances.
The tourists won’t make any hard and fast decisions, of course, until they have thoroughly assessed local conditions in, respectively, Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.
But all three venues may prove sufficiently pace or seam-friendly to persuade the South Africans that a spinner could have a limited role to play, to the extent that Duminy actually becomes the go-to man for needs in that area - simultaneously facilitating a four-quickies formula.
The diminutive Cape Cobras cricketer won’t blow a Test team away with his off-spin, as evidenced by a best single-innings haul of 4/73, albeit against the very Aussies at Newlands in March 2014.
But he is also a viable “contributor” in the slow-bowling department, boasting 37 Test victims at 37.29 and an economy rate of 3.55 which is good enough to suggest game-holding and varietal possibilities at one end when the need arises over the course of a five-day clash.
Duminy is also bowling with better consistency again in the limited-overs environment after a problematic spell for both discipline and confidence, something that might become apparent in the extended format. Opening batsman Dean Elgar is also capable of chipping in with a few overs of left-arm spin.
It is risky, of course, the pin your Test spin hopes in a part-timer, especially when conditions might suddenly suit the trade more as a game wears on and you rue the absence of a specialist.
But remembering that both Shamsi and Maharaj are uncapped in Tests, there is also a certain peril to exposing either against a team traditionally far from shy to “take on” a callow figure to examine his temperament as quickly as possible.
All of these thoughts are sure to be teasing the minds already of coach Russell Domingo and the rest of the SA brains trust on the trip.
Put it this way: the Proteas will certainly not wish to be found under-staffed in the speed department for the first Test at the legendary WACA with its healthy carry, and the same may well apply onward to Bellerive Oval in the fickle, often chilly and damp climate of Tasmania where they have never previously played a Test match.
Under normal circumstances, the third and final Test at Adelaide Oval would most obviously cry out for the presence of a renowned spinner (or even two) but as this will be a day/night affair with a pink ball and already fears that it may not go five days given likely seam domination, again either of Shamsi or Maharaj getting a gig is not cast in stone.
A personal suspicion, albeit this far out from the contest, is that the Proteas, for the WACA opener, will go all-pace with a quartet comprising Messrs Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Morkel and if that approach bears fruit, there may be no significant change as the series progresses.
The ground has seldom been a paradise for the slow trade, something borne out by the fact that the last occasion when a spinner grabbed four wickets or more in an innings was nine Tests back in the West Australian city – Monty Panesar got 5/92 in the unlikely Aussie first innings of an Ashes Test in December 2006.
Leg-spin legend Shane Warne, in a career with a bowling average of 25, averaged a much more modest 36 at the WACA.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t think long and hard before reluctantly opting to sacrifice a specialist spinner altogether there; the pitch can be sun-baked and just starting to dust up noticeably at advanced stages.
The last time the Proteas played a Test there, for example – the decisive match in a series they won 1-0 in 2012/13 – Robin Peterson picked up six wickets, three in each innings, including the prize scalps of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke in the second knock even though he also took some tap along the way.
Still, I’m sticking to my adventurous little theory on Duminy just for the time being …
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